A fruit geneticist and his winemaker wife morph into successful entrepreneurs with the help of the local agri-business economy

For Sean Myles and Gina Haverstock, starting a new agri-business meant enlisting the support of the entire community of Wolfville. From town planners to provincial regulators, and from suppliers to other businesses, everyone they interacted with along the journey encouraged them in their endeavour.

“We met a lot of people who wanted to see us succeed,” says Myles. “It’s a great place for developing innovative, value-added agricultural products.”

As the company grew, it became clear that either Myles or Haverstock would have to quit their day job to devote the necessary attention that running a business demanded. That problem was solved in 2021 when the Annapolis Cider Company was sold to Nova Scotia Spirit Co., the Stellar- ton-based group that produces the Blue Lobster line of beverages. The cidery remains in Wolfville.

Myles is an agricultural genetics professor at Dalhousie University. Haverstock is a professional winemaker. The couple have lived in Wolfville for more than a decade, happily immersed in the local food movement in Nova Scotia’s agricultural heartland.

Famous for its apple crop, the Annapolis Valley also produces grapes, pears, peaches, plums, broccoli, carrots, blueberries and cherries, and the region is gaining international recognition for its wines and ciders. Wolfville even has its own food film festival — Devour! — an annual cinematic celebration of all things culinary that attracts renowned filmmakers and high-profile chefs from around the world.

“We felt that it might be time to become active participants — rather than passive beneficiaries — of this bounty,” Myles recalls. “As farmers’-mar- ket-going residents, we saw a future in the momentum that is being created here.”

The idea for a cidery dovetailed nicely with Myles’ research in fruit genetics. In 2011, he founded the Apple Biodiversity Collection. He has sequenced the genomes of 1,113 apple varieties, growing on 2,354 trees on a five-acre orchard at the Kentville Research Station.

“It’s a bit like the United Nations of apples,” Myles says. “We have every- thing from wild apples from the forests of Kazakhstan to heirloom apples from Spain, all planted on the same root stock in one orchard.”

The apples are measured for everything from sweetness and acidity to flowering time and shelf life, all with the goal of figuring out how to breed better ones. It also serves as a “seed bank” that helps to preserve genetic diversity in rare or imperiled species.

With this expertise, Myles could “walk the walk” when speaking with local growers about the best apple varieties for making cider. In 2015, he began looking for a suitable location, and his search strategy was simple: “I walked into every building in downtown Wolfville and asked: ‘Is it for rent, and can I see the basement?’”

The basement was a critical component, as the 10,000-litre tanks require 20 feet of vertical space. Local realtor Wayne Merrill gave Myles a tour of a downtown property at 388 Main St., in an urbane neighbourhood dotted with brew pubs, coffee shops, service providers and local restaurants.

On April 13, 2016, Annapolis Cider Company served its first customers. Using fresh local fruit and a long, cool fermentation process, the Annapolis Cider Company quickly grew into one of Canada’ s leading premium cider brands. A grant from the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture helped in the purchase of a filter that enabled the processing of not just apple juice, but more turbid juices like raspberry, strawberry, pear and blueberry.

Fermenting at low temperatures preserves the flavour and aroma of the fruit, and also requires a special type of yeast, Myles points out.

“Gina chose a white wine yeast used to ferment Rieslings in Germany at cool temperatures, and retain the aromatic profile in the final product.”

The proximity to high-quality produce was essential, as was the close relationship the company developed with Stirling Fruit Farms.

“We could get freshly pressed juice from just a kilometre-and-a-half down the road, and get it in the tank right away,” he says. “We were able to brand our product as the authentic fresh taste of Annapolis Valley.”

The cidery proved a perfect fit for the growing agri-tourism sector in the region, with some 50,000 visitors dropping in each year for tours and tastings.

“They were able to put our product in a can, which was the next step in the evolution of the brand,” Myles says. “We believe the brand is in very good hands now.”

To find out more about the Annapolis Cider Company, visit drinkannapolis.ca
Take a refreshing ride through Nova Scotia cider country on the Nova Scotia Cider Route. To find out more go to www.cidernovascotia.ca

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